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I’m riding the Greyhound north savouring the last of Vermont’s colourful October forests. Although we are riding over dry pavement here, I am very aware that elsewhere many people I know are suffering from torrential rains and the subsequent damages they cause. Reports from Monteverde have been full of soggy complaints following about two weeks of downpours, grey skies and lack of sun. That means that landslides are probable and so traveling becomes quite unpredictable, making my hour-behind-schedule-otherwise-smooth bus ride from Maine to Montreal seem quite insignificant.
More seriously, my friends living on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala – an enchanting place I’ve written about frequently over the last few years – have been watching the water levels rise at a rate that they couldn’t imagine and were hoping they wouldn’t see quite yet. The pictures being posted on Facebook are truly alarming. I believe that many living close to the shoreline on the lake have been forced into evacuating their homes, perhaps permanently, for even if the water hasn’t entered the building, it has destroyed septic beds and compromised their water system – and is still rising. They say the lake has a fifty year cycle of rising and the elders know that the lake still has a ways to go. My heart goes out to those who built their homes and businesses only to have their dreams gradually washed away like eroding sand castles.
In Monteverde, our friend Wolf has just spent close to two weeks again in the Puntarenas Hospital. I am happy to say that he is back home and apparently doing fine. He had a bladder infection that they couldn’t control with antibiotics administered at the house so he was put into the hospital to receive treatment intravenously. Experience has shown that bladder infections cause a greater distress in older people, confusion and weakness being common symptoms and I guess that is what was happening with Wolf. Fortunately it seems that Wolf has rebounded well. I am anxious to be back down there, to see with my own eyes how he is doing. Once I’m there, I’ll be blogging about all things Wolf, Monteverde and booklike much more regularly.
I’ll be headed back to Costa Rica on November 16, just in time to attend a concert honouring the late Fidel Gamboa, Costa Rica’s recently departed musical genius. Malpais, the band he fronted along with his brother Jaime and five other great musicians, have decided to disband. I expect that the strength and reorganization it would take to carry on without their main composer, singer and guiding spirit was just too great. I believe it will be an incredible night of Fidel’s powerful music performed by his musical brothers and sisters, his lyrical poetry sung by friends and the night augmented by the addition of Costa Rica’s Philharmonic Orchestra. I am so glad that I can make it back to Costa Rica in time for this last-in-a-lifetime show.
In the meantime, I’ve been paying attention to the Occupy Wall Street movement as it ignites our world. For those of us who have been paying attention to the corporate takeover of the world with trepidation for decades, the rising of the 99% in North America is a wonder to behold. It’s about time! I move around with the sound of Lorraine Segato’s “Rise up, Rise up” playing in my mind – a song performed at Jack Layton’s wedding years ago and again at his funeral in August (for those unfamiliar with this man, I wrote about him a couple of posts ago.) I know that Jack, if he had not died so prematurely of that nasty cancer, would have been joining Canadians in the street and helping to inspire the peoples’ movement.
The timing and strength of the protests has surely exploded with the examples set in other parts of the world – Egypt, Tunisia, Libya – where populations of largely oppressed people realized that they have taken enough abuse from the upper echelons of power. At a certain point, people figure they have nothing to lose but plenty to gain in rising up. North Americans don’t like to think that such revolutions, sometimes violent, could happen here, but I’ve always thought, or at least hoped, that even in the comfort zone of the passified North American consumer society, people would eventually realize the folly of our system. It’s based on the lies and greed that reward a few while keeping the masses distracted with shopping and sports addictions (how many corporate logos can you wear in one outfit or fit on one car?) and fed with the belief that one day they too will get to feed from the golden trough. It would seem that we have reached the tipping point here, where people have had enough of supporting a system that isn’t supporting them any longer. While the 1% licks the cream off their lips too many others never even get to lick out the bottom of the pot.
Surely the movement has been fueled by the frustration of people trying to get ahead with hard work, if they can find it, but without the rewards promised. We pay for insurance that doesn’t guarantee security, for schools that don’t properly educate, for health care that isn’t available when you really need it. The two industries that seem to thrive in this harsh climate, that people are forced to seek work within, is the military and prisons, neither of which offer any hope for the future or health benefits for our society. Even here in soft-shelled Canada our very conservative government has decided to buy into this draconian way of creating jobs and controlling the poor. As French/Basque musician activist Manu Chao says, a country that spends more money teaching their citizens to kill than they do on education is a country based on fear, not hope for the future.
Besides following the leads of other dissatisfied societies around the world, perhaps the 99% movement in the US is taking advantage of having a president in power who may be somewhat sympathetic, at least enough not to have the protesters immediately tear-gassed and jailed, though there are signs that mayors in some cities are going in that direction. Although there is plenty to be disillusioned about with Obama’s presidency, it was always obvious that he was up against a corrupt and well-entrenched system that retains power and wealth for the select few in a historic perfect storm of global collapse. I believe that he can still do the right thing as this movement gains strength, and I will continue to believe that deep in Obama’s gut, there is a spark waiting to burn a hole from where his real strength and humanity will fly. I like to imagine that he and Michele watch the news at night and embrace each other, happy with the knowledge that the citizens of the United States, as elsewhere, are passing the goblet overflowing with empowerment and justice. When it makes its way to them, the Obamas will be ready to replenish it. At least that is what I like to think.
Being Canadian, I obviously didn’t have a chance to vote for Obama, but I joined with the millions who celebrated his election and believed in his message of hope and change. A simple fact of global life at this point in time is that though the citizens within the confines of the US may be able to live in ignorance of the governance of other countries, the rest of us are as deeply affected by the politics of the USA as we are the global governance by multinational corporations. How to explain what has been going on for the last three years? A system so entrenched in corporate power and elite privilege that even a man of deep principles and experienced in community welfare can’t remain immune nor stand up to the force of its greed. I remember Obama’s 100-days in power interview when he answered the questions “What has surprised you the most?” What has troubled you the most?” by expressing his not-so-naive understanding of just how difficult it is to work within the system, that change in Washington (and on Wall Street) comes very slowly, that even in the middle of a big crisis the discussion is lost to a lot of partisan bickering. Even as President of the USA, he can’t make the bankers do what he would want them to do or turn on a switch and have congress fall in line. Well, that is why he needs the help of the population to stand up and insist that the corporate rulers, the bankers, and the outrageously wealthy pay their share. It is time to get the power back into the hands of the people.
I also believe that it is the responsibility of people everywhere to stand up to the massive brainwashing that has created a global epidemic of consumption. The belief that owning a bigger home, a newer car, a better wardrobe, every new appliance and electronic device available, that all these things are going to bring happiness and peace to your soul – well it is time to step back and stop the madness. How can one possibly defend the needs of those who own several mansions, a fleet of luxury vehicles, whose bracelet probably costs more than your monthly salary unless you are thinking that it your own goal? This kind of ostentatious outlandish decadence is setting the example of so-called fulfillment. It has tricked everyone else into supporting those who feed this dream to us even as it is making people physically, emotionally and mentally ill. If one can’t afford the luxury items, they shop with the same abandon in the dollar stores. Junk, stuff, tomorrow’s landfill. It is insanity and, to me, it is a big part of the problem, this desire for more and more of everything. The drug lords are the corporations, the pusher is the television, the addicts are everybody…and the loser is the earth.
Instead of spending so much money on the war on drugs and the criminalization of marijuana, the government should be cracking down on the real crack – stuff!!!!!
Those of us who are the protesters, the 99%, whether we are living in a tent in one of the occupied city parks, or disseminating information through the social media, or speaking up in support of the Occupy Earth movement at every chance we get, know that it is time. We don’t need a “leader” or a single headline for the media to grip on to that will simplify their job. It is impossible to narrow the issues into one stream when it is already an ocean out there, full of inequality, insane policies and despair. The “free market” system, capitalism as it is called, has stopped working for the majority of not just the humans, but all creatures who share this fragile earth. A few may be getting rich – even very very disgustingly rich– but most are experiencing life as one crisis after another with nowhere to hide. Climate change, environmental degradation, health decay, economic collapse, fiscal mismanagement, the inequities that pit workers against workers and the middle-class against the poor… the absurdity of it all is well beyond a single slogan or one spokesperson. It is time. Gather your loved ones, put on your dancing shoes, be peaceful, open your mouth, feed your mind and RISE UP!
I’ve started writing this while laying in the hammock – it’s early morning and the heat is beating down the slight coolness that accompanied us in the night. If I try to count the number of types of leaves I can see without moving my head, face turned skyward, I reach twenty shapes and quit counting, the effort a little too much. Or if I try to isolate the sounds – the voices of the creatures, the frogs, the morning birds, the cicadas – what are all those other insects anyway? – and the sound of a big bushman chopping firewood to get the coffee brewing – well, I get lost in the various layers of songs coming out of this steamy, verdant landscape. The only sound that could be deemed intrusive is the occasional passing of a vehicle on the highway a couple hundred meters through the bush. No matter how jungle-bound one may feel, civilization is never really that far away.
It has been about a week since I last wrote (now two I admit as I finish this), thus my blogological clock is ticking and telling me to write. The time has gone by in a haze of lazy jungle love. From the moment I saw Roberto’s tall dark silhouette outside the airport doors, I felt myself breathe deeply again and knew I had come back to where I should be. When we arrived in Cahuita the next day and walked up the bush road, down the jungle path, crossed the now quiet (yet often fast-flowing) moat that encircles the place, and settled into his rancho nestled beneath the tall Guanacaste trees, I felt like I had come home.
We’ve barely left the place except to get food and to go dancing a couple of nights. The Quebrada Suarez, the twisting stream, provides enough sunning and cooling time that even taking the twenty minute walk to the beach seems like too much work.
A woman moving into a man’s domain always shakes things up, so we’ve been “remodeling” – making space for my things, increasing the comfort level, Roberto building rustic furniture as we sense the need – assemblage art it would be called back in Canada.
I brought a minimum of “stuff” with me, being very selective, simple living being one of the things that I truly appreciate about this place. The two most important things are my coleman stove which needs a different connection for the gas tanks here - in the soggy tropical forest cooking with wet firewood can be a full-time affair, not always a bad thing but often a frustrating one - and the components to hook up a solar system. My pal Chuck lent me a small solar panel and I bought the power inverter and now just need to buy a boat battery to get it all working. With a bit of effort , a few dollars, and a little luck, I should soon be able to write directly on my laptop being powered by that free and easy big ol’ sun, the same beast that keeps us moving slowly and conserving our own energy – unlike the bustling hummingbirds who are zipping about me and the butterflies of all colors who don’t stop their fluttering all day long.
However, we haven’t got around to getting the stove or the solar stuff working – as I said, it’s been hard just getting out to buy food.
Instead we’ve been watching the howler monkeys fearlessly leaping about the tops of the fifty meter high trees. There are moments here – mostly at daybreak and sunset – when the cacophony of jungle life swells to a crescendo before settling back down to a background buzz. It is often the male howler monkey who officially starts the day with his lazy roar – if he is in one of the closest trees it is as subtle as the engine of a Harley Davidson revving outside your bedroom window.
A pair of green and black poison dart frogs lives in the hammock tree (along with at least four different kinds of herps – geckos, lizards et al.)
Other constantly noisy neighbours are the oropendulas, tropical relatives of the orioles. Like ecstatic percolating coffee pots, they bubble away while getting food in the treetops and building their long dangling nests. The last couple of days the squawking parrots have taken over – it seems to me that there is a domestic dispute going on high up in the trees and those loud green birds are really having issues with each other. Not everyone can be so content in the jungle it would seem.
The other afternoon we spent time watching a King Vulture, a strange sight here in the vibrant green forest – they are more usually seen around open places or where there is rotting food of some kind or circling high in the sky. This guy came and sat down on a branch in the cool jungle, as if pretending to be an exotic quetzal seeking a quiet refuge from its adoring fans. We were laying in the hammock watching him watching us when a weak rope holding Roberto and I finally gave out and sent us to the ground. I swear that vulture had a smile on his waiting beak, always happy to see an accident in progress.
As it turned out, he had his eye on the corpse of a large toad, laying dead in the foliage on the far bank. Who knows what killed it or when, but that vulture knew its worth and struggled to lift it up. This was one of those big cane toads, big enough to fill a coffee pot. It was a fight for the vulture, and he was under pressure when he realized that I was chasing him with my camera, but he managed to get that big carcass up and away before I could get a decent picture.
The humidity has been building around us, night skies are filled with lightning and thunder rumbles in the distance, but not more than a drop of rain has fallen in the now two weeks I’ve been here. The rest of Costa Rica has had wild storms and deluges – the one night we went half an hour down the coast to Puerto Viejo to go dancing where it was pouring – but it remains dry and hot and steamy in Roberto’s piece of jungle paradise.
The country is waiting in anticipation of a big earthquake on the Pacific side and last night the Caribbean coast of Honduras suffered a significant earthquake. One never knows what one will be dealing with here in the tropics – it isn’t all pretty.
I’m now in San Jose with Wolf, awaiting the arrival of the shipment of the second printing of Walking with Wolf – we have all our ducks in a row, the Reserve truck is coming to get us, the money is in the bank, our customs man, Eliecer, is on the job – and the books seem to have got hung up in the same highway closure I did last night on my way here from the Caribbean. So our ducks are about to get scattered again and we will all be winging it.
As I made my way to the city yesterday, having left on the 11:30 a.m. bus, the highway from Limon was closed for several hours, the result of at least ten landslides from the heavy rain. The workers wouldn’t clear the rocks and earth and trees while the rain was still pouring down and so the traffic sat – me in a dry bus so in no discomfort – but we pulled into the city about five hours later than usual, at 8 p.m. in the dark. And I expect that is what happened to the books – slowed down by the forces of nature. Like our ducks.
Once we have those books we’ll be heading up the green mountain and I’ll stay a few days in Monteverde talking book business and visiting friends. It’s nice to be out of the mosquitoes and humidity, but I am already looking forward to getting back down to the jungle next week. After all, love awaits and that is worth a little sweat.
ON TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN
Last night was the apex moment for Walking with Wolf. We’ve hit the summit and start down the backside now. What a night! Actually what a couple of days before what a night! Global warming causing extreme weather brought near hurricane turmoil to Costa Rica at a time of the year when you just don’t expect this weather. We thought it was going to ruin the celebratory book launch, but in fact it was all perfect, including a last-minute change in the weather.
It is normally quite still here at this time of the year, unlike November till March when the winds can be ferocious and, minimally, are constant. But starting Wednesday afternoon it got real blustery, adding extra kick to what was already curtains of rain. Incredible! Wolf, Lucky & I spent the morning hunched around the woodstove, wondering how many people would possibly make their way out at night in this nasty weather. I said that the only people we could count on were the forest guards and the maintenance guys from the Monteverde Reserve since this is just what they do – go out in whatever the conditions are. So coming through the storm to the presentation, to eat bocitas and drink coffee all the while staying in a dry warm building, is easy for them. As it turned out, they were the one group who didn’t show up.
The rain was coming horizontally with such force that you just can’t stay dry unless you are completely covered in rubber. The old jeep we were using to carry the books from the house down to Bromelias Music Garden was almost as wet inside as out, the water entering wherever it could. Antonio Guindon’s wife Adair was driving me and the books down at 2 p.m.. At 12:30 water was everywhere – puddles consolidating into rivers, a downpour of rain that was also a sidepour, and the humidity hovering as a heavy mist that kept things wet even when the faucet turned off for a few minutes. I was thoroughly soaked just running out to the barn. I wrapped the three boxes of books in plastic and kept hoping that the rain would subside when it was time to go. And, miracle of miracles, it did!
At about 1 p.m. as we took the bagged boxes out to the vehicle and wrapped them in a dry tarp inside the jeep, the frequency of the raindrops definitely lessened. By the time Adair and I got to Bromelias and unloaded the boxes shortly after 2, we were only working in heavy mist. By the time people started coming around 5, even the mist was lighter. The winds stopped sometime mid-afternoon and by evening, it was just a thin fog that was blurring the night air, deadening the sounds, bringing serenity.
It had been such bad weather that roads were washed out, people’s houses shifted – the newspaper was filled with stories of landslides and flooding throughout western Costa Rica. So even with the change in weather, many people wouldn’t be heading out after such a harsh day. However about seventy-five did and together we enjoyed a warm and cozy night in beautiful Bromelias.
My friend Mercedes at the Reserve helped me put together about 180 photos that we projected from my laptop – those from the book, other old pictures I had scanned that didn’t make the book, pictures from our hikes, many of Wolf, a few from Canada or the beach thrown in. These ran constantly as a backdrop through the evening. Russell Danao played his beautiful vibraphone – high-end marimbas. He played at the Havana Jazz Festival this year. He kindly accepted our request to grace the evening with his music. As people came out of the fog and into the amber light of the room, they took their seats and watched the slideshow and listened to Russell’s jazz-toned and classical vibras.
People brought bite-size food and sweets, we had coffee and juice prepared, and Patri had the bar open, though this wasn’t a drinking crowd. We set up a table with a buncha books, it looked great, all those little Walking with Wolfs piled there. To introduce the evening, I had asked Mark Wainwright, our friend who read an early draft of the book and gave me valuable editorial comments. He is an artist, biologist, teacher and writer himself – and in many ways has mentored me (younger pup that he is). It meant a lot to me that he would introduce the evening. He didn’t really want to do it – doesn’t like being on stage though he is great – and had very firm plans to go off onto the trails looking for the elusive golden toad or any other amphibian he could find. Since the rains started, it is prime frogging season and Mark is a frogger who has already found two missing species thought to be extinct. So he wasn’t going to be able to be at the presentation. Then due to the extreme weather, he didn’t go into the forest. Mark did a wonderful, funny and super kind introduction to the book, Wolf and myself. Then Gary Diller, one of the story tellers in Walking with Wolf, read a poem about Wolf that he had been inspired to write yesterday in all that rain. It was a nice addition to the evening.
Wolf got up and very emotionally talked about the beginning of the concern in the community for the forest. He reiterated the thought that “all those who wander are not lost,” his mantra. I was amazed how well he got through talking, as I knew he was fighting those ever-ready Guindon tears. He then passed the microphone to me and I said my little piece – that we hoped to have a Spanish translation in the works, and I apologized for any discrepancies with how community people remember the events we discuss, and I thanked people who were there for their contributions – then I read some pages from the book. It all felt real good, the people were wonderful, and the whole night just rolled out smooth as pie dough.
We sold about sixty books and I knew there were many people missing who have said that they would buying in quantity. Mary Stuckey Newswanger bought ten books and then handed me a copy of a book that she has been working on with her brother – she and I have spent a lot of time at the side of the road talking about our books over the past couple of years. At the end of the evening, people were able to walk out into the misty night air without getting soaked. Patri and I went to Moon Shiva, our pal Nir’s place, for dinner. Great new chef there, loved loved loved the food – Nir has always run a beautiful restaurant – has for about five years now – but when the chefs change so does the food. Three guitar players were playing – Irish ex-pat Robert Dean who toured with Sinead O’Connor before moving to Monteverde, and Andres and Bernardo, hot local talent – it was great music and a bit of dancing. Off to Fish’s new bar for some more dancing. Through the night it would hit me every once in awhile – this was the climax of eighteen years of a certain thought, a vague plan, a lasting commitment, our book.
To finish this hugely long story, the reason the forest guards weren’t at the presentation, considering how much they would have wanted to be there to support their mentor Wolf, was that they were doing what they had to do – that is, go out to help a group of people who were down in Penas Blancas and needed to be assisted to come out of the forest. The vague details are that the guards and maintenance crew had to head out early in the morning in the worst of that bad weather, through the torrential rain and dropping branches, around the mudslides and over the raging streams. They escorted the group across the streams with cables, cleared away tree falls, and carried their packs through the pouring rain and thick mud. They didn’t get out of the forest until after 7 p.m. so they missed the celebration.
A few years ago, Wolf wouldn’t have made it to his own book launch – he would have been with the other men doing their job – making jokes, ignoring the brutal weather, helping troubled hikers to get back to civilization, no doubt filling them with hot coffee before they got started. The forest guards are the jungle version of fire fighters – heading into what most people walk away from. I was so sorry they weren’t there, but find the reason quite poetic.